Machines beeped as the straps monitored the baby squirming around in my belly. Little room left, we were only hours away from meeting him for the first time. We settled in for the long labor ahead… a book in my dad’s hands, needlepointing in my mother’s hands, and an iPhone in Drew’s hands. I leaned back and closed my eyes. Unable to take in all the anticipation, I tried to quiet my mind but I couldn’t help but wonder about the pain and ecstasy of bringing this baby into the world.
Breaking the silence, the nurses came flooding in. Drew stood to read the monitors and my parents emptied their hands as the nurses acted. They were quick, calm, but anxious – turning me on my side and placing the oxygen mask on my mouth. “The baby’s heart-rate is too low – he can’t handle these long contractions.” A needle stuck in my side aided in returning his heart-rate to normal but the words “you will probably need a c-section” lingered in the air.
Hours before, the ultrasound tech had found reason to be anxious. Our son was measuring small for thirty-nine weeks and my fluids were low. Most alarming, he didn’t move during the thirty minute test. We got the orders from the doctor – pack your bags and head to the hospital.
His heart-rate continued to drop several times during long but pain-less contractions. In the silence at home, was he struggling in the same way and I was blissfully unaware?
After several rounds of lowered heart-rates and anxious staff, the nurses prepped me for surgery. Blessed with a husband who had done several c-sections just months before in medical school, I lay in the bed while Drew patiently and calmly explained what to expect. My parents listened in – holding the book and needlepoint to their chest as they prepared to enter the waiting room. They put on a brave face but fear covered them like a heavy blanket wrapped around their shoulders.
Within thirty minutes, his cry filled the operating room and all was well. They wrapped him and held him to my face as I struggled to stay present amidst the drugs. Rather than hours of labor to prepare me for meeting him, I had only thirty minutes to wrap my mind around how my life was changing in that very moment.
Joy and fear and gratitude and suffering mixed together within me. I felt the ecstasy of seeing our son AND YET I felt the pain of surgery. Drew claims my memory is foggy from the experience but I would say that a foggy memory is the experience. To know a c-section is to look through groggy eyes, to feel severe pain, and to surf waves of unsteady emotions. To know a c-section is to know cleaning the blood and the steri-strips over the incision that would become a scar I carry all the days of my life.
To know a c-section is to know I will never be the woman with some celebrated revered birthing story. Instead, I am the one who remembers the irrational thoughts those first weeks of whether I was woman enough even though I did not know the pains of labor. I was the one struggling to walk around my house weeks later and the one who found sit-ups to be impossible even months later.
When I learned that c-section would be the advised route for my second, it took time to settle into this fact. C-sections would be my story. I would give up ever knowing labor in this life. AND YET, my story would still be one of joy and gratitude. For to know a c-section is to know the miracle of modern medicine. To know a c-section is to know how tight I hug both of my boys – my gifts that I may not have received if I been born in a different time and place.
My small but sassy Hebrew Scripture professor in seminary spoke it time and time again until it was embedded within us – “you shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). God did not simply rescue the people from Egypt for their own well-being. God rescued them so that they may rescue others. God calls them to realize that this experience of struggle and pain is the birthplace of one’s love and care for another. It is the birthplace of responsibility. It is the birthplace for one’s purpose.
My c-section not only birthed my first son but it also birthed a deeper understanding of what it means for me to be an ordained minister. It is not just about the youth I am paid to serve in my job. It is not just about the family I am called to nurture in my home. It is also about the other women who walk this road with me.
I mourn AND rejoice for my c-sections and I am called to do the same for others – for I know the heart of a c-section. I check-in. I talk openly about the gross details of the after-math. I name the rational and irrational feelings I had. And I hold the hope when others are too lost in the pain of recovery – preaching the good news that beautiful new life is born from the death of our expectations and the endurance through the long nights.